Shang Wu: I recently met Chris Kearney at UIC Career Fair. He started his own company after graduating from UIC with a bachelor degree in marketing. As a UIC MBA student with a marketing concentration, I took a deep interest in his story, which I think will be a great inspiration for all UIC students.
Shang Wu: You graduated from UIC. Can you describe your life as a student at UIC?
Chris Kearney: I transferred to UIC as a junior from the College or DuPage and JJC, and like many transfer students, it was my first in the city. My first semester was very busy. I had a full time job at T-Mobile while being a full time student with a schedule that was overwhelming and sporadic through the week. I recall working each day during the week from 8:00am till 9:00pm between going to school and work while living in the city. The overloaded schedule left me no time to get to know too many people with the exception of a close nit group of friends that I had met in my economics night class. After I failed my first class ever in management 350, a lecture hall class, I decided to quit my job, which picked up my grades but I had to take out additional loans to afford living in Chicago.
I look back with glee because I made more friends through group projects in smaller classrooms, met more of my neighbors, and started to feel connected to the UIC community. I was still busy with several unpaid internships and school work but had time to have fun as well.
Shang: Why do you like UIC and what do you like about it?
Chris: I love UIC. I came to UIC as a transfer student because it’s located in the heart of the city, full of opportunities. UIC produces students that are not entitled but willing to work hard to get what they want and deserve.
Shang: Is there anything that you wish you would have done as a student looking back?
Chris: There are plenty of things I would have done differently, but for me that came with experience and growth over time. Something that stands out for me was time management. I focused a lot on friends and internships, which were valuable experiences, but I wish I would have gotten more involved through teachers, administrators and student organizations, I feel that I would have experienced more which would have enabled my growth faster. Basically I feel that every student should create a balance of getting to know the values of internships, school work, social life, and getting involved on campus though student organizations or other means in the community through volunteer work.
Shang: How did UIC courses help you after graduation?
Chris: I developed many skill sets through UIC’s coursework. Marketing and management helped me with my presentation skills and personal selling; marketing research gave me the analytical skills to solve problems; consumer behavior taught me how to advertise to the general public. Every group project helped me develop my team and leadership skills, as well as facilitated my learning of the coursework.
Shang: What is your relationship with UIC as alumni?
Chris: I started College Rising, my company, right after I graduated. The staff, faculty and past professors of mine from UIC really helped me solidify my business idea and provided me positive feedback to start the venture. I also served on the events committee of the Business Alumni Association, under the College of Business at UIC. I joined originally because I was thankful of UIC’s College of Business and because of the feedback and support I received from the administration. However, I still remain a board member not just to give back but because of the network and educational value of being on the board. Prior to March 2011, I was always a lone wolf entrepreneur, as I have been bootstrapping since I started. Being a-part of the Business Alumni Association inspired me to create my own advisory board for College Rising Company. Now I have a group of people that support and provide insight to the changes I should make on a quarterly basis for my company.
Shang: What does College Rising do?
Chris: College Rising is the match.com for landlords properties and students who are looking to live near campus. We also pair roommates. All the cost is subsidized by the landlords and we look to service any UIC student looking for housing. Over the past three years we have been growing in demand and profitability.
Shang: Why did you start College Rising?
Chris: I started College Rising for 2 reasons. The first was my experience. As a transfer student, it was hard for me to find a roommate and an apartment near UIC. It only took a week of commuting from Plainfield, about a 3-hour drive each way, to realize I did not want to commute anymore. Although was a risk, I decided to rent a 2-bedroom apartment near UIC for $1000 per month, which was double my budget and find my own roommate. I was able to find a roommate the first week I had the apartment and thus was very happy being near UIC, having a roommate, and paying $500 per month living in Chicago.
The second reason was that during my final year at UIC, I noticed that I was not the only one in need to find roommate and apartments near my college. I saw a need in the market place, had a specific niche, and built up enough confidence during my college career to start my own business.
I started College Rising with the vision to help students find apartments easier and faster than they normally would through the current market by seeing for rent signs, craigslist and UIC off-campus housing website. Finding an apartment for me was difficult as I was looking for a roommate and an apartment. I have solved this through our shared apartment spaces, but to service the over 9,000 students that live around UIC campus is a challenge that has not been fulfilled. I am looking to fulfill this because it’s a win-win for landlords, students, and the community.
Shang: You incorporated three years ago, how have you been able to thrive this long?
Chris: I am very grateful for all the resources that UIC provided me to start the business: UIC commuter center, John Anderson from UIC Career Service, UIC, SBDC which I met my accountant through, many past professors from UIC who shared their resources willingly, which created more connections for me and several organizations like the economic law project which I attained pro bono legal services through to complete my contracts and trademark. Although I am the only employee of the company due to not having enough capital, I have a lot of people and organizations that got my back and keep me engaged every day.
What is your company’s goal?
Tuition and fees are rising every year and with the current economy, the line of what you get out of college v.s. what you pay is becoming gray.
My goal is to get students more involved. The way I can help is with off-campus housing because I feel that those who live on or around campus get more of the experience intended for them. On campus housing does a great job of connecting students and the college. I would like to connect student’s off-campus with each other and the college community so that when students graduate they clearly have defined that it was worth the money. I would take pride in helping the over 35% of students that live around campus. Just think if we can connect students to each other and the resources of the college community. The UIC community will grow alongside the student development and career path. I truly believe that 75% of the time the book and the classroom setting is the same no matter what college you attend. It’s always the students in the classroom that make the difference.
Shang: Thank you Chris for sharing your story with us. You are truly one of those great examples of the entrepreneurial spirit that lies in UIC’s DNA. Good luck to your business and I look forward to seeing you continue to be successful.